Love Burns Bright – Rien Gray

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Another compelling book in the Fatal Fidelity series from Gray. I read this in quick succession after the second instalment – Love Bleeds Deep as I find Campbell so fascinating and captivating as a character.

This book felt slightly different to the other two, in that the relationship between Justine and Campbell never feels at risk like they have both settled into their roles within their relationship. With that brings trust and honesty that sits directly between comfortable and uncomfortable for them both.

We are introduced to Justine’s family and in doing so Gray weaves two narratives together to show us who Justine and Campbell really are. The risk and reward scenarios never seem to get old, and Gray does a masterful job of bringing humanity to Campbell where you might not otherwise see it in such a complicated character.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves a high-stakes narrative and their characters with a morally grey viewpoint of the world.

I received an e-ARC directly from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Love Bleeds Deep – Rien Gray

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I love a morally grey character, and I think Campbell is probably as dark a grey as you can get without being completely in the black. They’ve fast become my favourite non-binary character, and whilst I know the topics of this series won’t be for everyone, I never hesitate to recommend the first book in the series, so I was very glad that this sequel held its own for me.

Following on where Live Kills Twice left off, Campbell is called to France for work, giving us the opportunity to experience more about how Campbell lives their life, and how Justine is now she is out from under her husband’s control. The setting gives lots of opportunities for this exploration, but the thing I loved the most was Campbell coming to terms with their love for Justine.

I often struggle with novellas, wanting more than the work has space to give, but novellas for this series work perfectly. The pace is driven forwards so as to both accentuate the danger in their lives and their relationship, but also serves to highlight the important moments between them in their pursuit for what might be considered justice, rather than focussing on the minutia of their plans.

This was an escape for me in a different way from the other romances I usually read, but I’m thoroughly looking forward to book 3 and the continuation of their journey together.

Words Unsaid – K.G. MacGregor

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A different but at the same time familiar new entry to the Shaken series from MacGregor. It’s hard to say you enjoy a book when it contains such difficult subject matter, but it had lots of great features that I really liked.

I read all five books in this series one after the other, so it’s possible I’ll have a slightly different opinion than someone else who read this with some time between book four and five.

This review isn’t going to be as detailed as I normally would – as the storyline is too important, and the surprise too much a part of how you feel about the storyline.

The biggest difference between this and the other books in the series is that we get an additional point of view in the narrative, that of Lily and Anna’s oldest son – Andy. It’s an important difference. The reason Andy goes missing is unfortunately all too familiar in the news nowadays, but it’s an important story to tell. I enjoy books where I learn new things, even though it’s fiction, so this was right in my wheelhouse.

Despite the subject matter and the changes in viewpoint, I found lots of similarities in the book that definitely make it a great addition to a series I’ve come to really enjoy. The openness and communication between Anna and Lily is still paramount. I love their relationship, their relationship with their kids and their families.

The book is packed with lots of things going on, and is set approx. 10 years after book number four. It would make for a good final part of the series if this is to be it, but I wouldn’t mind one more either.

If you haven’t read this series I’d definitely recommend it, but start at the beginning. I think this could be read as a standalone, but you’d miss so much about how Lily and Anna got here, and a big part of the enjoyment for me in this book, was the continuation of their journey together.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Zero Chill – Carolyn Elizabeth

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I read both Dirt Nap and Zero Chill one after the other, and I have to say it was great to immerse myself in the world of Corey and Thayer for a while.

They’re are now living together in Thayer’s lake house, trying to live a more peaceful life than their first six months together has given them so far. I liked that Elizabeth didn’t choose to move the time forward significantly, that we get to experience them healing and moving on from previous events.

As with all Elizabeth books, the characters are really well written, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Thayer’s Nana, but this is true for all three books. The new character additions add humour and richness to the storyline, adding a slightly different but nonetheless interesting focus.

Zero Chill comes with lots of intrigue and mystery, but not as much peril as Dirt Nap – something which works really well for this narrative. Elizabeth mentions that this is her pandemic book in the acknowledgements and I felt like this was deliberately less intense than previous instalments.

It gives lots more time to explore the relationship between Corey and Thayer, and for the quiet moments where they get to really explore what it means to them to still be together after the events of Gallows Humor and Dirt Nap. Reading this made me realise why I love it when we’re gifted with a series about a great couple – it isn’t just about the meet cute and the whirlwind romance, it’s about how they stick with it and grow together.

This wasn’t my favourite of the three books, but I’m genuinely hoping this isn’t it for the series. I want more Corey and Thayer, but I also want to see where things go for Rachel and Nora.

I would highly recommend this, but make sure you read the other two books in the series first.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Across the Hall – Kat Jackson

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
This was a nice easy read that I enjoyed a lot.

Caitlin is recently divorced, moved into a new condo next door to her best friend, and about to begin a new job as a substitute English teacher. The only thing she’s interested in right now is work.

Mallory is a history teacher with a reputation for being difficult and unapproachable to the rest of the faculty, but there’s something about her that draws Caitlin to her.

I’ll read a blurb to pick the books I want to review – but after that I don’t revisit them before I start the book, so for the first chapter or so I thought this book was going to go very differently than it did. I’m glad. The book I thought it was going to be would probably have been very good – but I like this narrative more!

I liked the slow burn direction the narrative takes. Whilst Mallory is depicted as cold, and oftentimes pulls away from Caitlin, prolonging the slow burn aspect, I liked that it never felt like either Caitlin or Mallory actually broke from their characters. The relationship progression felt quite natural to me – but perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of an armadillo myself!

One thing for me that I did struggle with was some of the character names. A couple of the secondary characters have names that are very similar to Mallory, and in some of the school scenes I had to slow down my reading in order to ensure I fully kept track of what was going on.

Caitlin’s ex plays a part in the storyline, and I thought Jackson did a good job of keeping this interesting, causing tensions on both sides of the relationship, and providing closure in a way that didn’t set up for any further dramatic conflict.

I also really liked Catilin’s best friend Lina. Their friendship is great and ensures you get to know Caitlin further, plus the way Jackson depicts her experiences, both in the romantic sense, and the military, added to the storyline for me. I wish we’d had a bit more closure on her storyline though.

I’ll definitely be going back to check out Jackson’s first book, and I’m looking forward to what might come next.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.